How NFL Preseason Results Affect Regular Season Handicapping
by Robert Ferringo - 9/9/2011
Yeah, I know that the NFL Preseason really doesn’t mean anything. Or does it?
I went back through this year and tracked how the first-team units of all of the NFL teams did during their exhibition games. My study was super-scientific, but I feel like it (as well as actually watching the tape) has given me a great idea of who kind of has it together and is playing well heading into the season and who is still recovering or struggling after this goofy offseason. And yeah, I think that is relevant, so I definitely considered some of this information toward my early season NFL handicapping.
Remember: the early season NFL spreads and odds are more a reflection of how the public views these teams based on last season and their perceived positive or negative changes during the preseason. But no one ever seems to consider how clubs have played and how they have looked in August, which I think is relevant. I'm not talking wins and losses. I'm talking about how each team's starters on offense and defense played in the little opportunities that they were given.
Basically, I took the final score at the end of the first quarter of the first game, the first and second quarter of the second game and, you guessed it, the first three quarters of the third game. I understand that not all teams played their starters equally (and due to injury, holdouts, or coaching whims, certain teams didn’t play some starters at all). But those quarters were populated either by the starters or the primary backups, so I feel it gives a good reflection of how the teams are coming together with their front-line guys and immediate depth. We’ll find out in a couple days if any of this translates into the early portion of the regular season.
In fact, we did see some of it translate last night in Green Bay's win over New Orleans. What happened in that game? Green Bay came out absolutely razor sharp while New Orleans was turning the ball over and took a while to get on the same page. Well, Green Bay's starters were +6 this preseason in their time together while the Saints starters were among the worst in football at -10. Maybe there is no correlation, but it is at least worth tracking.
Most of what I found kind of backed up what I had seen and what people were talking about. The Steelers look great, Detroit has been playing like maniacs, and Houston has appeared sharp. Seattle, Carolina and San Francisco suck and the Colts are going to struggle without Peyton Manning. We knew all of these things.
But there were plenty of other nuggets I was able to pick up. The Broncos have been playing with some purpose this preseason and look to be a very focused bunch under John Fox. I know some people were dogging Atlanta, a trendy Super Bowl pick, for going 0-4. But their first team played great, going +16 against their opponents. Then there were several playoff teams – New Orleans, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Kansas City – and some sexy sleepers – Tampa Bay – that were pretty terrible. (Although Chicago and Tampa Bay are Cover-2 teams, and those are always soft in the preseason.)
Further, the Giants (+10) and Jets (+17) played better than I think people are giving them credit for. (Remember, those two played each other as well so their numbers reflect how they played in two games against the rest of the league.) Meanwhile, The ‘Dream Team’ didn’t do anything to impress.
Here is the full list of how each team’s first-string units performed this preseason:
Pittsburgh: +29 (45-16)
Denver: +25 (34-9)
Houston: +24 (48-24)
Detroit: +23 (54-31)
Jets: +17 (27-10)
Atlanta: +16 (43-27)
San Diego: +13 (44-31)
New England: +12 (45-33)
Washington: +11 (38-27)
Giants: +10 (30-20)
Green Bay: +7 (34-27)
Tennessee: +6 (23-17)
Minnesota: +3 (23-20)
Oakland: +3 (23-20)
Dallas: 0 (30-30)
Philadelphia: 0 (24-24)
Miami: 0 (27-27)
St. Louis: -2 (31-33)
Arizona: -7 (30-37)
Jacksonville: -8 (26-34)
Buffalo: -8 (23-31)
New Orleans: -10 (34-44)
Baltimore: -11 (27-38)
Chicago: -11 (19-30)
Cincinnati: -14 (31-45)
Kansas City: -14 (20-34)
Cleveland: -16 (28-44)
San Francisco: -17 (10-27)
Tampa Bay: -18 (20-38)
Indianapolis: -22 (17-39)
Carolina: -28 (20-48)
Seattle: -34 (3-37)
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